This story was updated at 3 p.m. Sept. 27, 2011.
Walmart plans to open a new 118,000-square-foot store at the former BAE Systems site in Aspen Hill by 2013.
The vacant space at 13900 Connecticut Ave. is now zoned for office use in the county’s master plan, so the Montgomery County Planning Board and the county council would have to pass a master plan amendment to change the zoning to retail. County councilmember Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) said that would be an unusual move.
Bruce Lee, president of the Lee Development Group, the company that owns the land, said the office has been up for lease for more than three years.
“We've proven that there is not an office market in Aspen Hill,” Lee said. “It is an I-270 office building that is obviously not on I-270. The point is that the master plan is not working.”
The 265,000-square-foot building has been vacant since July 2010, when BAE Systems, a defense, aerospace and security company, relocated to a new building in Rockville. The site is the second biggest vacant space in the county, according to a report from the office of Director of Economic Development Steve Silverman. The biggest vacant space in the county is the empty 537,784-square-foot Comsat/Lockheed complex in Clarksburg, where LCOR plans a mixed-use project to replace Comsat.
County Executive Isiah Leggett said it could take 12 to 18 months at a minimum before a decision would be made on rezoning the Aspen Hill land.
“There is a great deal of interest and an attempt to potentially change what is now an office location that has not proven to be a super place for office interest,” Leggett said. “We need to explore more details, some of the things [Walmart] would offer and how it would fit in. There’s much more to be done, but I do agree that the current zoning is not one that's appropriate for that site.”
Khalid Afzal, the Planning Department’s team leader for the Georgia Avenue and Route 29 corridors, said master plan amendments are uncommon, because they typically take two to three years to complete. Afzal said master plan amendments are not generally done for one property.
Navarro, who represents Aspen Hill, said it was too early to decide if the space should be rezoned.
“We need to take a look all the reasons why it was not zoned commercial,” Navarro said. “We do need jobs in District 4, but we also need to look at the conditions and make sure we’re not jeopardizing the other retail nearby, so there's a lot of questions that need to be answered.”
County government employee union UFCW Local 1994 quickly voiced its opposition to the Walmart plan. President Gino Renne said the union last week learned Council President Valerie Ervin was in support of the project. On Wednesday, two days before Walmart officially announced its plans, the union created an online petition targeting Ervin and her campaign contribution connections to Lee.
Ervin did not respond to repeated calls to her office and cell phone for comment.
“[Walmart’s] business footprint has a devastating impact on the community. They employ workers at substandard wages. They do not provide adequate affordable healthcare and they not provide sustainable retirement opportunities,” Renne said. “The information we have is [Ervin] is in support of it. Montgomery County should not be engaging in a race to the bottom in bringing in employers such as Walmart with a track record of mistreatment of employees.”
Walmart said the store would create about 300 store jobs, 100 construction jobs and $1.5 million in annual sales and property tax revenue.
The Aspen Hill Walmart would feature the company’s new urban design and green building standards, according to an official press release. The Walmart would also include a pharmacy, deli and bakery in addition to general merchandise.